Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Otepääst Script: Bibs, Boards, and Bandanas

The racing in Otepää was pretty damn good, as usual. No Estonians reached the podium, so they'd better start tweaking their "training." Worlds is just a few weeks away!

The bibs were matter of fact. The female sprinters and male distance racers wore the logo of Swedbank, which is, unsurprisingly, a Swedish bank - "the leading bank in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." If the bibs inspired any Americans, you could go open an account at Swedbank New York.


Judging by her demeanor on the start line, Marit really liked the bib's fit and finish. Alas, she couldn't quite dominate the sprint the way she had pwned the distance race, which she won by a lot.

On the other hand, Kowalczyk either didn't like the flat, easy sprint course or didn't like the bib - she does shill for Polbank, a (you guessed it) Polish bank, so maybe it's a sponsor thing. Regardless, you could kinda see from her demeanor that she wasn't gunning for the win, and wound up finishing fourth - six spots ahead of Grinnin' Marit.

The male sprinters and female distance racers wore bibs adorned with the most philosophical logo of the World Cup, that of Ergo, the "the leading company in the area of private health and legal costs insurance in Europe." If I'd known that before the races, I'd have klistered my eyeballs. As it is, my ignorance was only exceeded by the hilarity of seeing Russian journeyman sprinter Michail Devjatiarov do this on the start line.
Dude, sit down. Sure, you won a race once, almost four years ago now, but since then you've only made one final. Worry less about your bandanas and more about your double poling.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Otepää Check-In

Tomorrow the World Cup visits Otepää, Estonia, one of the traditional stops on the circuit. The Otepää races are almost always classic individual-start events - as old school as it gets - and this year is no different. The Otepää races are also the venue at which Estonian racers tend to do well, for whatever reason. Last year, Jaak Mae took third and Andrus Veerpalu took second behind Lukas Bauer. (The rest of the top ten was completely Russian and Norwegian.) Neither Mae or Veerpalu had made a top-level podium for a while before that race (Veerpalu: first in the 15km classic at the Liberec Worlds; Mae: second at Otepää in 2008), and neither has done it since. Just as I had my doubts about the origins of their surprise placings last year, I have my doubts that either will finish in the money tomorrow. I suppose one should never doubt the magical water at the Tehvandi Sports Complex!

Checking on Veerpalu and Mae in the FIS database, it struck me that Estonia is oddly akin to Italy and Germany, two far more broadly successful ski-racing countries, in having very few distance-race podium finishes from its men in recent years. EST is a small country, of course, which makes the recent GER and ITA lapses all the more surprising - a point I made in a slightly different context last month. Looking at distance races...

1. Who was the last German male to reach a World Cup podium (i.e., not the Worlds or Olympics), and when?

2. Who was the last German male to win a World Cup race (i.e., not the Worlds or Olympics), and when?

3. Who was the last Italian male to reach a World Cup podium (i.e., not the Worlds or Olympics), and when?

4. Who was the last Italian male to win a World Cup race (i.e., not the Worlds or Olympics), and when?

1. The last German podium finish was Tobias Angerer's second place in the 10+10km pursuit in the Falun season finale in March 2010. (Honestly, though, Angerer and Axel Teichmann did well at the Olympics, with the latter winning a silver in the 50km classic mass start and the two of them winning a silver in the team sprint.)

2. The last German win was Axel Teichmann's first place in the 3.3km prologue in the Falun finale in March 2009. Looking at real distance races, the last win was Angerer's first in the 15km mass-start skate race at Rybinsk on January 30, 2009.

3. The last Italian podium finish was Pietro Piller Cottrer's second place in the freestyle 50k at Holmenkollen in March 2010. (He had won a silver in the 15km skate race at the Olympics in the previous month.)

4. The last Italian win was Giorgio di Centa's first place in the Canmore 15km skate race in February 2010. (Piller Cottrer finished second in that same race.)

Though I guess some of these gaps aren't that long (ten months since Angerer's second place, eleven since di Centa's win), some are - almost two years since a German victory! And all of these finishes happened in markedly weak or otherwise odd races: the prologue is a weird event, and the fields were notoriously weak at Rybinsk and Canmore. (Obviously, the good Olympic results for Teichmann, Angerer, and Piller Cottrer are counterpoints.) If the Italian and/or German men rip it up at Otepaa tomorrow, I'll be as surprised as I won't be if Veerpalu uncorks a podium finish. My picks:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bibs and Boards (Liberec Edition)

The "sprint weekend" on the world championship courses at Liberec saw Kikkan Randall win the individual skate event and Bjørgen return to form with a ridiculously easy win in the classic team sprint. The bibs were simple little numbers:

Kajot is a "gaming" company in the Czech Republic - it makes slot machines. Hence the clever substitution of lucky number seven for the J in the name - not that you'd have obtained good odds against Hattestad winning in bib #13.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Johan Olsson, Derider of Golf

Quoth Johan after today's 2x10 pursuit at the Tour de Ski, in which he finished 18th, "Det är en parodi att åka omkring på en golfbana när det finns så mycket fina berg att köra i.

According to Google Translate, this means, "It is a travesty to go around on a golf course when there are so very nice mountain running in."

According to the human who is behind World of XC and who knows English and Swedish, Olsson said,"It is a parody to race on a golf course when there are great mountains all around!"

I might more liberally translate Olsson as saying "Pursuits are easier when I have Marcus and Anders running interference behind me," and/or "In Sweden we play golf on terrain that's much rougher than this."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Man-Crush on Kersh

The first three stages of the 2011 Tour de Ski have forced me to finally admit, to myself and to the Nordic Commentary Project's vast global readership, that I have a giant man-crush on Devon Kershaw. Lest you judge me, I offer a defense of my stance on the man who is now solidly established as North America's best male cross-country ski racer.

First and foremost, he's fast as hell. His results at the Vancouver Olympics didn't quite garner a medal, but c'mon: fourth in the team sprint and that heartbreaking fifth in the 50? Awesome. Kershaw has been consistently improving his World Cup results for a couple years now, with nine top-10 finishes between 2006 and 2009, but has this season made a big jump up. So far,, he's taken four top 10s: 10th overall in the Kuusamo mini-tour, 9th in the Davos 15k classic, and now the amazing back-to-back second places at the Tour de Ski, behind only Dario Cologna in the 15km classic pursuit and Emil Jönsson in the classic sprint. Great, great stuff that bodes well for the short term (a good TdS result), the middle term (the Oslo World Championships), and the long term (the 2014 Olympic Games).

Second, "Kersh" seems like a pretty cool guy. On his entertaining Twitter stream, his (oh-so-infrequently-updated) blog, and elsewhere, he talks frankly about the ups and downs of racing (his account of that Olympic 50 was moving), about his own development as a racer (including the almost-indescribable tragedy that he faced as a junior), and about life as a top-level athlete. He's got a great, loose writing style that's very natural and appealing - and which makes his racing all the more notable. It shouldn't be a surprise to me that there's a brain under that Cross Country Canada headband, but it's nice to see it frequently confirmed.

In short: Go Kershaw, go! I can't wait to see how the rest of the Tour and the rest of the season go.